Dameron, Tadd [Tadley Ewing Peake] (Cleveland, 21 Feb 1917 - New York, 8 March 1965)


Composer, arranger, bandleader, and pianist


After working with lesser-known groups he joined that of Harlan Leonard, scoring many of its arrangements, including Dameron Stomp and A la Bridges; he also wrote for Jimmie Lunceford, Coleman Hawkins (Half step down, please), and Sarah Vaughan (If you could see me now). In the late 1940s Dameron wrote arrangements for the big band of Dizzy Gillespie, who gave the première of his large-scale orchestral piece Soulphony at Carnegie Hall in 1948. Also in 1948 Dameron led his own group in New York, which included Fats Navarro; the following year he was at the Paris Jazz Fair with Miles Davis. After forming another group of his own with Clifford Brown in 1953, he became inactive owing to a problem with drugs, which led to his imprisonment in 1958. From 1961 he wrote scores for recordings by Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, and Blue Mitchell.


Dameron did not achieve full expression of his gifts as a composer because of his inability to maintain his own group for long. Navarro was the finest interpreter of his pieces, as their many joint recordings show. The best of these exhibit a pithy thematic invention uncommon in jazz: Sid's Delight and Casbah (both 1949) reveal Dameron's powers at their height. Like Thelonious Monk, Dameron was repeatedly linked with bop, though he rarely employed its stylistic devices. With other arrangers for Gillespie, he attempted to adapt bop to big bands, failing however to transfer the crucial rhythmic procedures of this essentially small-group style. In spite of this, his best pieces for Gillespie (e.g., Good Bait and Our Delight) show particular melodic and harmonic substance. Other notable compositions by Dameron include Fontainebleau (1956), an extended piece without improvisation; Hot House (1945), recorded by a group led by Gillespie with Charlie Parker; and Lyonia (1949), recorded by Ted Heath.


 Max Harrison


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, © Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988